Trane's Reviews > Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter

Home Work by Lloyd Kahn
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's review
Nov 12, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: art-and-culture, non-fiction
Recommended for: homebuilders, alternative lifestylers, anarchists, hippies, everyone else too

Home Work is the followup to Shelter, Lloyd Kahn's influential 1973 guide to alternative living and DIY homebuilding. In Shelter Kahn advocated a return to the hand-built house, emphasizing traditional building methods over the high-tech solutions that had been advocated throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s (culminating in the dome house, a form that he initially helped to pioneer, but eventually rejected).

Home Work covers a lot of the same territory as Shelter did, but unlike Shelter is full of beautiful full-color photographs. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of alternative living situations detailed here and the hand-built houses — from around the world — will make you wish that every last suburb was burned to the ground so that the world could be remade in the image of this book. The examples that Kahn presents in this book are invariably made from recycled and natural materials and all are works of art in themselves. Furthermore, many of these houses are off the grid and rely on solar power, composting toilets, etc. This is not, however, a book full of expensive designer architectural 'solutions'(it's safe to assume that Kahn abhors yuppiedom); instead these are DIY projects that rely on personal sweat equity, ingenuity, and the ability to think small.

The amazing structures in this book include Louie Frazier's astoundingly beautiful hand-crafted home in Mendocino, various takes on the yurt, driftwood houses constructed on the beach, shacks made from found materials, stone houses, adobe houses, rammed-earth houses, straw houses, bamboo houses, tepees and tents, the ubiquitous converted school bus, and — yes — even a few domes. There's also an incredible array of houses from around the world, many of them in configurations/situations that radically challenge the notion that the household and the nuclear family should be in any way synonymous. If this book doesn't have you thinking about, and desiring, ways to live differently than you probably deserve the box that you're already ensconced in.

Here's what I don't like about the book: 1) There's way to much of an emphasis on back-to-the-land hippie-style living, which I suspect has a lot to do with Kahn's social network. I've got nothing against the back-to-the-land movement or hippies in general, and I'm glad to see all the builders (and their beards) that are represented here. However, it would also have been nice to see more of the possibilities of what can be done in terms of hand-built shelter within the urban setting. These places do exist — I've seen plenty of reconfigured warehouses in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland that function as amazing live/work spaces. And how about urban squats, etc.? 2) While the pages in this book are still holding together (stitched, thank you), the cover itself fell off after the first reading. Of course, I can always glue it back on myself, but covers simply shouldn't be falling off so soon after purchase.

Highly recommended.

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